COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured Mental health

Mental health resilience strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic

A sad face, neutral face and happy face.

Everyone’s situation is different and can be challenging for various reasons. This has been especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe you are feeling isolated and alone because you live by yourself and can’t engage in the daily routine that you had pre-pandemic. Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed with caring for your children or loved ones at home while balancing your job.

In addition to facing a variety of challenges, individuals are experiencing different types of loss over the course of the pandemic: the loss of a loved one, of a support network, financial loss, or perhaps missing out on a milestone experience such as a graduation or a wedding that was cancelled or adjusted as a result of COVID-19.

No matter what your situation is, being more compassionate towards each other and especially towards ourselves can be a helpful tool in managing mental health amid the challenges of pandemic life.

Here are some strategies that may help guide you to find more mental health resilience in 2021:

Acknowledge the challenges

Identify that you are having difficulty and what may be contributing to this. This reflection can help reduce feelings of guilt and the burden of current expectations you are putting upon yourself. This can also validate how you are feeling.  Also, allow yourself to have a role in improving your situation. Focus on the things we have control over, and what we CAN do, such as staying home and wearing masks and practicing the strategies below, versus what is out of our control such as restrictions.

Adjust perspective

If a situation is viewed from a negative lens as being ‘all bad,’ it is likely to be experienced that way. Trying to see both the challenges and successes, and considering the good elements of a situation, can help change the way it is experienced – likely in a more positive and balanced light. Adjusting perspective takes practice, time and patience.

Set goals and set yourself up for success

Setting goals can help us take action to make changes in our lives. Achieving goals can help boost mental health and motivation. Beginning with a small goal and growing from there can be a helpful starting point.

It is important that goals are ‘SMART,’ which stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.  Start with one goal.  Set a goal for yourself that you know you can accomplish. If you find you made a specific goal and are thinking, “That’s an easy task, of course I can do that”, that is probably a good goal to start with. Other tips for success: trouble shoot in advance to remove any hurdles in achieving the goal, or modify the goal itself, if needed.


Taking care of yourself and your needs is important for mental health. Self-care can help foster resilience and include activities such healthy sleep habits, exercise, healthy eating, and staying connected with others virtually or by phone. In stressful times, breathing exercises can help calm feelings of stress or anxiety. This video about Box breathing demonstrates how it works and highlights its benefits.

Reach out for help

If feelings of stress and anxiety become overwhelming to the point where it is difficult to accomplish every day tasks or if things are further declining or are just not getting better, reach out for help from family, friends, colleagues, and professionals such as your family doctor or therapist. If there is an emergency you can call a crisis line or call 911. Remember you are not alone. Here are stories from real people about their struggles with mental health and addiction, and how they reached out for help.

These strategies may take some practice but be patient with yourself as you go through the process. Taking it step-by-step each day can be helpful in improving mental health and building resilience, not just this year and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but also in the years to come.

If you need help in an emergency please call 911 or visit your local emergency department. If you’re feeling like you’re in crisis or need somebody to talk to, please know that help is also available through community resources:

For more information from Sunnybrook experts: Coping during COVID-19 mental health resources

About the author

Dr. Joanna Mansfield

Dr. Joanna Mansfield is a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook’s Women’s Mood & Anxiety Clinic, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Clinic and General Psychiatry Clinic and teaches medical residents in psychiatry at the University of Toronto.